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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Neither neat nor simple

Jeff Fusco/Getty Images
Gay rights supporters demonstrated before
New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that gay
and straight couples must have equal rights.

Doubts Persist as N.J. Lawmakers Move Forward on Civil Union
Published: December 14, 2006

TRENTON, Dec. 13 — With New Jersey’s Legislature set to vote Thursday to establish civil unions rather than same-sex marriages, it remains unclear whether this approach can actually fulfill the mandate from the state’s Supreme Court to guarantee the same rights and benefits for gay and straight couples.

The New Jersey State Bar Association is one of several organizations that have criticized the proposed civil union law, saying in a statement that it “will create a separate, unequal and unnecessarily complex legal scheme” that does not satisfy the Supreme Court’s directive.

Advocates on both sides of the gay marriage debate are uneasy about the legislation, which was introduced just nine days ago and has seen little scrutiny, with only two committee hearings before the scheduled floor debate. And among gay couples who plan to obtain civil unions, as well as lawyers who work on civil rights issues, questions about a new, parallel institution are piling up.

The most likely problems, they say, will arise beyond the state’s borders — beyond the reach of its Supreme Court and the Legislature. The biggest among many unknowns is how New York will treat the unions, no small question in New Jersey, which has 335,000 residents who work in New York. (An additional 117,000 work in Pennsylvania.)

The answer seemed clear when the New York Attorney General’s Office said in an advisory opinion in 2004 that New York should recognize a same-sex marriage “or its legal equivalent” from another state.

But last fall, in a case involving a gay couple from New York who had entered a civil union in Vermont, a New York appellate court refused to recognize the surviving partner as a spouse for the purpose of filing a wrongful death suit. The court pointed out that the Vermont Legislature created a separate institution rather than allow gays and lesbians to marry, implying the couples can be treated differently.

Spokesmen for the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, who will become governor in January, said they could not expand on the 2004 advisory opinion or comment on the New Jersey law until it is in place.

This is going to be ugly. Especially when New York and Pennsylvania are factored in.

posted by Steve @ 12:39:00 AM

12:39:00 AM

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